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Chocolathon!

My friends and I come up with the BEST potluck themes!  The latest one: chocolate.  Yep, a whole meal centered around chocolate.  It was awesome.

I made Black Bean and Yam Enchiladas with Mole Sauce.  I got the recipe from a wonderful blog called The Keen Kitchen.  Check it out!

The mole was actually really easy to make and really rich.  I can’t wait to make it again!

The lovely Sara made a unique and delicious pasta dish!  It was tossed with a light citrus-zest sauce and topped with finely grated chocolate.

Half of us really enjoyed the complex flavors, but half of us preferred the pasta without the chocolate.  Personally, I have always felt that citrus and chocolate is a winning combination.  All of us agreed that the pasta and enchiladas were surprisingly good together.

Next came the important part: dessert!

The beautiful Jenny brought us heavenly chocolate-pumpkin muffins with pumpkin glaze.

My description will not do these justice.  They were super chocolatey, and the pumpkin glaze was super pumpkiny!

Sara really outdid herself by bringing an entree AND a fancy dessert!  She made these lovely little chocolate tarts.  They involved puff pastry shells, chocolate pudding, and mini marshmallows.  They tasted like s’mores.  But classier!

We also enjoyed a lovely Malbec with our meal, provided by the gorgeous Kate (who was not able to drink any, since she was pregnant at the time, but she has since delivered a healthy baby boy…Yay!)

We decided that our next potluck theme should be Greek food.  I’m excited about that one, but I also think that we should repeat the chocolate theme soon.

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Fairy Tale Eggplant Pasta

Once Upon a Time…there was a girl who was sad to leave her prince in a faraway land and did a really bad job of updating her blog. 

At least it was the height of summer and she was able to console herself (at least for a little while) by making dinner for her family with goodies from the farmer’s market.

I’ve always wanted to try these little Fairy Tale Eggplants!  I decided to highlight them as the main ingredient by keeping the preparation simple.

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I chopped the tops off the little eggplants and sliced them in half lengthwise.  In my wok I heated about a tablespoon of canola oil then sauteed 2 cloves of minced garlic and 1 chopped red jalapeno.  Then I threw in the eggplants and tossed them around occasionally until they were nice and tender (maybe 5 minutes).  Then I threw in 2 diced tomatoes and a little bit of chopped basil and heated for another minute or so.  I served that on top of cooked fettuccine. 

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My parents seemed to really enjoy the food and the ambiance.  I put on my “Ella Fitzgerald” Pandora station, and I had picked up these gorgeous locally grown flowers from the health-food store down the street.  They were only $5.  Sometimes it’s important to “treat yo self.”

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  • Fairytale Eggplants: $1 (farmer’s market
  • Oil: $0.03
  • Garlic: Free (borrowed from Dad)
  • Jalapeno: Free (Kate’s garden)
  • Tomatoes: Free (Kate’s garden)
  • Basil: Free (Kate’s garden)
  • Pasta: $1.29

=$2.32/4 servings

=$0.58/serving!!!  God, I love summer. 

Now, even if I had bought all of the ingredients, I would estimate that this would still just be about $1/serving.  Not bad!

Summer in San Francisco

I was told that my last post seemed super angsty.  I didn’t mean it that way.  I guess I felt guilty more than anything else.  It’s hard to spend 5 years believing in something and then start to have doubts.  But I have minimal angst about eating what I want to now.
I also didn’t intend to ignore my blog all summer.  I was really busy with 2 jobs—teaching art to little kids at a summer camp and teaching an art history class online—and also spending precious time with my boyfriend.  Not to mention sightseeing.  It’s kind of nice to be in a place for a few months—long enough to do some things that are off the beaten path, but short enough to give you a sense of “carpe diem.”  That said, I certainly wish I were back in San Fran now.

I, of course, ate some WONDERFUL food this summer but didn’t photograph all of it.  Here are some highlights:

We visited Enjoy Vegetarian Restaurant again.  We started with wontons and hot & sour soup.

Noor likes that they bring a big container of water to the table.

Then we had the String Beans with Soy Beef and Basil.  Yum.  This was the best faux beef ever.  I’m usually pretty wary about vegetarian beef, but it was even better than the “chicken.”

However, the Kung Pao Soy Chicken (with extra peanuts) was really good too.

On a different night we decided to try the OTHER vegetarian Chinese restaurant (God, I LOVE San Francisco!): Shangri-La.  It was equally delicious but more nutrition and health-focused.  This place is good, but I think I prefer Enjoy’s veggie takes on Chinese-American classics.
We tried the “Beef” with Broccoli and the “Abalone” with Black Mushrooms.  Both were delectable:

One day we went down to San Jose to see our friend Scott, and he suggested lunch at Ike’s Lair in Cupertino.  I like Ike’s!  They have halal meats, along with vegetarian and vegan meat substitutes.  I got the Pumpkin: vegetarian breaded chicken, pesto, mushrooms, avocado, and I added artichoke hearts and asked for no cheese.  They were very cool about my special order and didn’t make me feel like I was inconveniencing them at all, even though they were super busy. 

I need to take a moment here to say that my boyfriend is amazingly sweet.  Most mornings he got up early to make Peet‘s coffee, breakfast, and a to-go lunch for me. 

He also went to the farmer’s market for me on Thursdays since I had to work.  Look at these beautiful heirloom tomatoes (which may or may not have turned into delicious BLTs).

He also got me some wonderful spinach ravioli from Lucca’s Ravioli Company.

My friend Jane made me a lovely stir fry with veggies from the farmer’s market and eggs from her backyard.

We visited Village Falafel in Cupertino.  The falafel wrap was excellent!  I loved their really thin pita bread. 

This place on Clement Street in San Francisco is heaven. 

…and there’s a place next door with fresh-squeezed watermelon juice.  It’s the nectar of the gods, I’m telling you.

Clement Street also has an amazing Russian bakery with these poppy seed pastries that are chock-full of poppy seeds!  Clement Street might be one of the best foodie streets in America.  It also has a Russian deli with really good borscht, a German bakery, an Irish bakery, a fancy sit-down dim sum place, an Indian buffet, and much more.

One day we tried Taqueria Cancun in The Mission.  Their sign out front claimed that they have the best vegetarian burritos in town.  They were really good!  …but…I still prefer the vegetarian burritos at La Palma.

In celebration of our anniversary we had a picnic in the town of Sonoma.  It was absolutely lovely.

Another day we had a feast with Noor’s cousin at our favorite Mediterranean Restaurant: Zaki Kabob House in Oakland.  We had Falafel, Egyptian Salad, Beet Salad, Hummus, Baba Ghannouj, Tabouli…and that was just our appetizer course!  I also had the Moujadara: spiced lentils and rice with caramelized red onions on top.

Of course, no matter how full you are, if you’re in Oakland you have to visit Fenton’s Creamery.  In addition to their famous ice cream, they always have a few flavors of sorbet, which makes me very happy.  On this particular evening, they had a brand-new plum sorbet.  It was possibly the best sorbet I’ve ever had.  It had a super concentrated fresh plum flavor that wasn’t too sweet.  Noor got me a pint to take home, too, and I discovered that it was very refreshing with 7-Up (like a float). 

I spent a day in Palo Alto and had a nice lunch at the Cool Cafe (next to the Cantor Arts Center on the Stanford campus).  They had a yummy vegetarian mushroom burger.

One night we ordered a Vegetarian Indian Pizza from Golden Gate Indian Cuisine and Pizza.  Yep, I LOVE San Francisco!  It was weird but delicious!  It had Special Spinach Curry sauce, fresh Ginger, fresh Tomatoes, Red Onions, Fresh Garlic, Cauliflower & Eggplant Bhartha with Mozzarella Cheese.  It was even better cold the next day.

One night I made Yaina’s black beans and rice and fried plantains for Noor and impressed him with my ability to make perfectly fluffy rice.

There is a lot of good Japanese cuisine in San Francisco.  Tani’s Kitchen is our favorite.  It’s a bit of a dive, but the service is friendly, and the food is solid, and it’s super cheap!  You can easily get a hearty meal for under $10, which is pretty amazing in San Fran.  On one occasion I had a vegan meal of salad, inari, and a cucumber roll.  Yum!

That is just a small sample of some of the wonderful food I ate this summer.  It was amazing!

Why I’m Thinking about Going Back to the Dark Side

Because the coconut bacon at Cafe Gratitude only left me wanting a REAL BLT.  Badly.

Because I then tried the Vegetarian BLT at a different local restaurant, and it turned out to be made with the Morningstar Farms Veggie Bacon Strips.  Have you ever SEEN those?  Let alone tasted them?  They’re horrific.  They’re like artificially flavored cardboard.  Worse, have you seen the ingredient list?:

EGG WHITES, SOYBEAN OIL WITH TBHQ FOR FRESHNESS, TEXTURED SOY PROTEIN CONCENTRATE, MODIFIED CORN STARCH, WHEAT GLUTEN, HYDROLYZED VEGETABLE PROTEIN (CORN GLUTEN, WHEAT GLUTEN, SOY), CONTAINS TWO PERCENT OR LESS OF GLYCERIN, SALT, SOY PROTEIN ISOLATE, SODIUM CITRATE, SODIUM PHOSPHATE, SUGAR, NATURAL AND ARTIFICIAL FLAVORS FROM NON-MEAT SOURCES, TORULA YEAST, CARAMEL COLOR, MONOCALCIUM PHOSPHATE, SODIUM TRIPOLYPHOSPHATE, NATURAL SMOKE FLAVOR, MALIC ACID, GUAR GUM, YEAST EXTRACT, LOCUST BEAN AND GUAR GUM, SODIUM SULFITE, CARRAGEENAN, RED #3, DISODIUM INOSINATE, DISODIUM GUANYLATE, NIACINAMIDE, IRON [FERROUS SULFATE], AUTOLYZED YEAST EXTRACT, NONFAT DRY MILK, YELLOW #6, VITAMIN B1 [THIAMIN MONONITRATE], VITAMIN B6 [PYRIDOXINE HYDROCHLORIDE], VITAMIN B2 [RIBOFLAVIN], CITRIC ACID, CYANOCOBALAMIN.

Yeah, I think I’ve had enough of that.

And when I Googled “vegetarian bacon,” I came up with this article, and thought, “yep, that’s me right now.”

Because I’m tired of what I eat…or don’t eat…being tied to my identity.

Because I’m tired of saying no.

Because I miss certain family traditions and recipes.

Because I’m tired of suffering symptoms of anemia, despite taking supplements.  And I just figured out that I would have to eat 3 whole bags of baby spinach to get my daily value of iron, not to mention that there is no plant source of vitamin B12.

Because I’m tired of tofu.

Because I’m tired of not having any good, easy sandwich ideas.

Because at camp this summer I won’t be allowed to have nuts or nut butters.

Because my blood sugar crashes when I don’t eat protein with my carbs…not a problem at home usually, but sometimes the vegan option in a restaurant or at somebody else’s house is nothing but carbs.

Because I’m tired of worrying what other people will think when I “cheat” by eating eggs or a little bit of seafood, which I’ve found myself doing more and more lately.

Because I found out that the “cellulose” in my faux chicken nuggets is actually wood pulp.

Because the long list of processed ingredients on my faux chicken nuggets or faux bacon are probably not good for me or the environment.  A little bit of ethically sourced meat might be better.

Because it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.

Because I want to actually support farmers who raise animals sustainably and humanely.  As this guy points out, “As a vegetarian, you are suddenly checked out of the system.”

I haven’t forgotten why I rejected meat in the first place.  Do I want to eat meat every day?  Hell, no.  But I’m starting to think that once or twice a week would be reasonable.  I’m just as disappointed now as I was five years ago when I first learned that words like “natural” and “free range” are essentially meaningless, but that doesn’t mean that I can’t seek out and find humane sources of eggs and meat.  I’m still lactose intolerant and still planning to avoid dairy altogether.  I’m still planning to eat vegetarian most days and to keep the blog up.  And I could always change my mind again and go back to not eating meat at all.  But I feel the need to at least recalibrate and remind myself why I started doing this in the first place and continue to make my food decisions as consciously as I can.

 

Caribbean Home Cooking

The other day my friend Yaina made a lovely Cuban/Puerto Rican meal for me!

Black Beans and Rice, Tostones (Savory Fried Plantains), and Avocado-Tomato Salad

Just bragging.  That’s all.

Breakfast-for-Dinner Potluck

Our latest potluck theme was Breakfast for Dinner.  Yum!  Sara graciously hosted and made mimosas!  Thank you, Sara!

I made Herbed Whole-Wheat Drop Biscuits with Smoked Almond Gravy from a cookbook called Vegan Brunch by Isa Chandra Moskovitz.

Jenny brought amazing vegan cinnamon rolls from the health-food store.  A new friend brought spinach-artichoke quiche (not vegan but I don’t care)!

Another friend brought French toast (also not vegan), and somebody else brought chocolate-pumpkin muffins that just happened to be vegan!  They were made using a low-fat recipe that calls for mixing a box of cake mix with a can of pumpkin.  The result is moist and delicious.  Kate brought one of her famous pies, which also happen to be vegan.   Her crust is always light and flaky, just about the best I’ve ever had!  The strawberry filling was perfect too.  She also provided some super flavorful home-grown strawberries from her garden.

Breakfast for Dinner was a delicious carb-fest success!  We definitely need to fit in at least one more potluck before I leave.  We’re thinking maybe Italian food or maybe a nachos bar.  The food is always great, but it’s really the company that makes these lovely affairs.

Herbed whole-wheat drop biscuits

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F.  Grease a baking sheet.  Mix:

  • 2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
  • 5 teaspoons baking powder
  • 2 teaspoons dried thyme
  • 2 teaspoons dried rosemary (I used fresh and added it with the wet ingredients)
  • 1 teaspoon salt

Cut in:

  • 3 tablespoons cold non-hydrogenated vegetable shortening
  • 2 tablespoons cold non-hydrogenated margarine (I didn’t have any shortening, so I just used 5 tablespoons of margarine)

Stir in:

  • I cup almond milk (or any non-dairy milk.  I used soy)

Use an ice cream scoop to drop dough on baking sheet in mounds (about 1/4 cup each.  Bake for 15-18 minutes or until firm.  Transfer to a cooling rack.

Smoked almond gravy

In your food processor or blender chop:

  • 2 cloves garlic

Then add:

  • 1 cup smoked almonds (I was disappointed to find that Trader Joe’s didn’t have smoked almonds.  No problem.  Instead I used regular almonds and added several grinds of TJ’s South African SMOKE Seasoning Blend.  This was probably even better because I was able to control the amount of smoky flavor, and this stuff is gonna be great on lots of vegan foods)

Then process the almonds into fine crumbs.  Add:

  • 1 1/4 cups water (I used unsweetened soy milk instead)
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons corn starch

Process until smooth.  Don’t worry if it seems thin right now.  Pour it into a saucepan and simmer for about 5 minutes or until thickened.  That’s it!

Enjoy Vegetarian Restaurant: San Francisco

I was in San Francisco last weekend, and my boyfriend—knowing my love of good, greasy, American Chinese dishes— found for me a Chinese restaurant that serves vegetarian versions of classics like Lemon Chicken and Beef with Broccoli: Enjoy Vegetarian Restaurant.  It was wonderful.  We had trouble narrowing down the menu of over 100 dishes—all vegetarian.  The waitress was an adorable young lady and super helpful; she recommended some of her favorites.

Noor really wanted to try the Veggie BBQ Pork Appetizer.  The thin strips of seitan in a sweet/hot sauce had a convincing texture.

The Sweet & Sour Chicken did not disappoint.  Crispy deep-fried nuggets of faux meat in sweet red sauce with pineapple, peppers, and carrots.  It was like a blast from my pre-veg past!

We also went with the Fresh Mushroom w/ Fried Soft Tofu & Vegetables.  This dish had four different types of mushrooms: black, enoki, golden, and white!  The other veggies (broccoli, snow peas, carrots, etc.) were fresh and crisp.  The tofu was light, and the sauce was super savory.  It had an umami factor that tasted just like chicken broth to me.

I was starting to get full, but the waitress did not ask us IF we wanted to order dessert.  She asked, “Would you like to order dessert now or later?”  When I explained that we didn’t need dessert, this sweet young lady gave me a death stare that would put any grandmother, teacher, or military drill instructor to shame.  Then Noor chimed in, explaining that he is half Indonesian and had noticed that they had fried bananas on the dessert menu.  And so it was decided.  We ordered them with vegan vanilla ice cream (!), and they were glorious.  This picture really does not do justice to these creamy, sweet delicacies wrapped in light, crispy batter (actually all of these pics were taken on my phone).  I fully admit that I was wrong; the waitress and Noor were right.  If you go to Enjoy Vegetarian Restaurant, you MUST order dessert, no matter how full you are or how many chocolates you have back at your boyfriend’s apartment.

This place is not fancy, but it is damn good.  The menu has enough variety and integrity to please just about anybody: from the most militant vegan to the most diehard omnivore.  The fare is hearty, and the service is friendly, but it was the attention to detail that impressed us the most.  For example, the hot tea is complimentary, and when we both ordered water they brought us a quart-sized bottle of cold, lemon-flavored water.  The home-cooked food and homey atmosphere are a bargain; our meal came to less than $40 for an appetizer, 2 entrees, and a dessert.  I’m so happy that I have all summer in San Francisco to try more of the wonderful dishes at Enjoy Vegetarian Restaurant (and I promise to take some better photos next time 😉 )